All OS X versions, even the “no new features” Snow Leopard release, have made some changes to the way things look without much affecting how they act, and Lion is no exception to this.

The first (and perhaps most obvious) change is to the login screen itself. In all previous OS X versions, this has taken the form of a white box with the OS’s default wallpaper as a backdrop, with either a vertically-aligned list of users or a pair of fields where you enter your username and password (depending on the number of users on your Mac and the way you’ve configured your login screen to work).

In Lion, this has been exchanged for a simpler-looking horizontally-aligned list of users against an iOS-like textured background (again, depending on your login screen’s setup).

The login screen is marginally more useful in Lion, since you can see your computer’s wireless status, battery life, and clock in the upper-right hand corner without logging in.

This information is also shown on the lock screen, which has also been changed – it’s easier to show than to tell, as you’ll see below – and this makes it that much easier to check your Mac’s battery status without having to authenticate.

Login, and your desktop now fades into view in an iOS-esque way. In fact, Lion has a good bit more fading and zooming than Snow Leopard - most notification messages now employ some graphical razzle-dazzle and jump out at you instead of just appearing, which you’ll either think looks slick or frivolous, depending on the kind of user you are.

Fading, sliding, and zooming aside, the desktop looks pretty much identical to Snow Leopard’s, with the exception of yet another space-themed default wallpaper - The Dock and the taskbar look and act the same way as they did in the previous OS X version. One behavioral difference: windows throughout the OS can now be resized by clicking and dragging any corner of the window - this is one of those oh-wow-is-this-seriously-only-happening-now features that should have been in the OS ages ago, but that makes it no less welcome now that it’s finally here.

Apple continues its quest to get stuff off of your desktop by default – inserted discs and external drives no longer show up on the desktop by default (mounted network drives stopped showing up on the desktop by default in 10.5, and the computer’s internal hard drive stopped showing up by default in 10.6). You can switch all of this back on in the Finder’s preferences, just as before, but it’s another baby step away from an easily visible file system.

Lion also continues Apple’s slow shuffle away from the Aqua styling that defined the OS when it was originally released. For starters, the subtler, more staid icons that have been creeping in since Leopard have replaced the colorful icons in the left-hand sidebar.

 

Snow Leopard sidebar (left) vs. Lion sidebar (right)

The scrollbars have also been changed, depending on what you’re using for input. If you’re using a multitouch-enabled device like the Magic Trackpad (or the large glass trackpads on most MacBooks from late 2008 onward), you’ll see scrollbars only as you actually scroll – they appear and disappear as they do in iOS. However, using an older-model trackpad or traditional keyboard and mouse will cause more standard, always-present scrollbars to appear.

 

Snow Leopard scrollbar (left) vs. Lion scrollbar (right). Lion's scrollbar will disappear if you're using a multitouch-enabled mouse or trackpad.

Next, turn your eyes to the upper left-hand corner of your window, where you’ll notice that the close-minimize-resize buttons have been reduced in size.

 

Snow Leopard's buttons (left) vs. Lion's smaller buttons (right). 

If you then look at the rest of the window, you may notice that the color has been lightened slightly compared to Snow Leopard – this lighter color scheme occasionally threw me off, since it’s somewhat similar to a deselected window in Snow Leopard – I occasionally thought that my clicks weren’t registering because the colors weren’t quite right.

The subtle color scheme changes also extend to buttons and progress bars in the Lion, which have shed their bright Aqua-blue in favor of a less-shiny and slightly darker blue. Notice that button shapes have also moved away from the shiny, round Aqua-style to a more traditional rounded rectangle.

 

Snow Leopard progress bar (top) vs. Lion progress bar (bottom)

 

Snow Leopard buttons (top) vs. Lion buttons (bottom)

Last, let's talk branding: The AirPort status indicator in the menu bar is now labeled Wi-Fi instead of AirPort, a small but welcome step away from a sometimes-confusing moniker. Apple's wireless hardware is still called AirPort in the System Profiler, and Apple's just-refreshed routers are still called AirPort Extreme, so it's likely that the branding will stick around - it's just not as readily evident in the OS.

None of these changes are going to have much, if any, effect on how you use the OS, but they’re there and you should know about them. OS X has been shedding the old, colorful Aqua in favor of a more reserved (if a bit less distinct) Aqua UI for awhile now, and Lion continues in that direction.

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  • ebolamonkey3 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Not seeing them :( Reply
  • LeTiger - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Ever fix the 17in Sata 3 bugs????

    Such a shame to belligerently cripple their flagship laptop...
    Reply
  • Conficio - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    "There is one huge limitation though: running apps in full screen in multi-monitor setup is unusable."

    As full screen apps are essentially spaces, there is a huge need (and there was for a long time) to be able to manage spaces per screen. All that would be solved if I coul switch between the spaces in a single screen only or move around entire spaces from one screen to another. That would solve this issue and allow a more task oriented kind of work, where you open a space for every task (or project in a multi tasking sense) you are working on and you can open the various apps you need to work on that project. But then that is the opposite of opening all past docs in an app (?)
    Reply
  • Conficio - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    "If you were able to include the location in the Quick Add, Quick Add would actually provide a great overall solution for adding new events, but now you need to add the location separately, which kind of defeats the purpose."

    This concept is as ripe as a green banana. I want to be able to mark the text in an e-mail in order to create an event (with link back to the original e-mail). That way I can work with the lazy people that send invitations in any other format than calendar.

    Byt the way go even one more step Appple, and scan all e-mail for addresses, contact info and events and highlight those and with a single click allow me to add the info to my address book or calendar (and with an option send to others in a iCal or vCard format). That would be real progress!
    Reply
  • teryan2006 - Saturday, July 23, 2011 - link

    umm… I've been doing what you describe, highlighting text in Mail in order to create an event since 10.5. (screenshot: http://cl.ly/25402N2W2E0n281W0r09 )

    Same thing with the email address and contact info. They've been in Mail ever since they added data detectors. http://cl.ly/3V2q0D1z1x1M1X2q0v1v

    If you hover near an email address, time, date, street address, there's a dropdown button that shows up. New in 10.7 is QuickLook style preview for URL in a message

    Did you disabled data detectors? Maybe that's why you're not seeing these things?
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    "I don’t find any use for Launchpad. It's one of the less successful iOS imports - it doesn’t fit in, nor does it bring anything truly new,"

    I think this was a foolish comment. The first sentence is fine, the second is not.
    Not every feature in an OS upgrade is targeted at the same collection of users --- I, for example, couldn't care less about full disk encryption.

    I know for a fact that naive users (precisely the people who don't understand the file system, a class you seem to accept does exist) are completely unfamiliar with the Applications folder. For THIS sort of user, Launchpad is exactly what they need --- an easily understood way to run programs they don't frequently run.

    As for you and I, we can just ignore it --- just I like ignore Japanese input methods, or LDAP support, or a hundred other aspects of my mac that aren't relevant to my particular situation.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    To follow up on what I said, comparing Launchpad with a Stacks view of the Application folder kinda misses the point. The sort of naive user we're discussing doesn't understand that he may have apps sitting on the desktop, or in the Downloads folder, or in the Utilities folder of /Applications.

    The Stacks view you describe is limited precisely because it is based on PLACE, not on on TYPE, whereas what users almost always want is based on TYPE.

    The fact that it does not honor your pre-existing folder structure is, I would say, in Apple's eyes a temporary issue. Consider iTunes. iTunes doesn't create playlists based on how you grouped songs in the file system --- it assumes that your songs are stored in some bag in the file system somewhere that you will never look at, and imposes its own structure on that content. Launchpad is a vastly simplified version of that same idea, and part of the constant theme throughout Apple's past five+ years of UI work --- arrange content using appropriate metaphors in a high level app, NOT using a limited set of constructs at the file system level.
    Reply
  • hanssonrickard - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    For example, then macbook pro 15" 2.4 Ghz Core2Duo from early 2008 does NOT support AirDrop.

    Here is compatiblitly list for it and maybe the article shouldbe updated with some kind of note that not all macs will support airdrop.

    Info from "http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4783"

    ----
    Macs that support AirDrop in OS X Lion

    The following list shows the earliest of each Mac model type that is supported. If your Mac is the same, or newer than the model listed, then it supports AirDrop.

    MacBookPro (Late 2008 or newer)
    MacBook Air (Late 2010 or newer)
    MacBook (Late 2008 or newer)
    iMac (Early 2009 or newer)
    Mac Mini (Mid 2010 or newer)
    Mac Pro (Early 2009 with AirPort Extreme card, or Mid 2010)
    ------
    Reply
  • makruger - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Too bad it won't run on normal PC hardware without becoming an iHack Reply
  • Sapan - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Does anyone know for sure if OSX Lion enables TRIM Support for 3rd Party SSDs?
    I know 10.6.8 enabled TRIM for Apple SSDs.
    Could you provide some background/link to how you got that info please?
    Reply

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